By Anne Groebner
The White Mountain Winter Games have been a part of the White Mountain community for 14 years and is something that is very special to me. At Vermillion College in Ely, Minnesota, I worked the dog sled races and fell in love with the sport.
It’s pretty amazing to watch the excitement of the Siberians Huskies and how much they love to pull sleds. In Ely, it is a community event and for several weeks in the coldest of winter, many town residents and business owners pull together to pull off an incredible winter festival to break up the monotony of winter and create a bond among each other. The sled-dog races ran right through the center of town and was one easily one of the most memorable events that I have ever worked.
When I moved to the White Mountains, I heard that sled-dog races were held in Alpine, but that the races were discontinued because of the unpredictable snow conditions. I was told there was a local musher named Ron Miller and I met him and his dogs up at Sunrise and we discussed the details of the event and that was the beginning of the Winter Games.
Ron had moved here from Alaska and had brought some dogs with him and still raced in some of the big races in Colorado. With his guidance, the sled-dog races were officially a go!
One of the most important aspects of the Games was collecting enough money to cover the purse for the mushers and to pay the expenses of putting on an event. Without the support of Cellular One, and the use of the cross-country ski trails, compliments of Sunrise Ski Park, the games would have never happened.
Cellular One put up most of the money, including the expense of having Paul Shurke, part of the first team of mushers to reach the North Pole by dog-sled, fly out to the event and then talk to students in the local schools about his adventures. That first event was incredible even though we had one of the biggest blizzards in memory. Since then, there has only been two years that the sled-dog races didn’t happen. It was commonly said “the Winter Games brings snow,” well, maybe not every year, but the Winter Festival always happens, regardless of weather.
It’s a great way to come together as a region and experience the feeling of community. Every year, the business community has been there to support this event, along with all of the volunteers from all walks of life helping pull this event together. And let’s not forget the Pinetop-Lakeside Chamber of Commerce for always hosting the Chili Cook-Off. And last and definitely not least, thanks to all of the musher that participate in the races.
I appreciate all of the anxiety of wondering if there will be snow for the race and for lugging all of the equipment needed to make the event an outstanding exhibition of one of the oldest and traditional winter sports.
Cheri Engelhart and her husband Frank have been to all of the races and have stepped up as Race Marshall for most of them.
I especially want to thank Ron Miller, because if he wouldn’t have had the same vision as I did back in 2002, there wouldn’t have been a race. Once Ron hung up his sled, Charlie Odegaard from Flagstaff stepped up to put in the trail and get everything set up for the mushers — A big “thanks” to him and his entire family. So many mushers have come through the years, including a few that come every single year to help make sure that our small community can host a great event. For that I am grateful.
This year, Sunrise Ski Park is hosting the event on Saturday February 21. They have come up with so many unique “games,” that I feel this will be the best year yet. I always plug the mushers, but even if there is not enough snow for a sled-dog race, the staff at Sunrise will really keep you entertained – Here is a list of “games” this year that will be a blast to participate in or just watch!.
Glacier Golf: (9 holes of miniature golf played on 3 mountains), Poker Run: (get your best hand), Dog Weight Pull: bring your dog and test their strength, Snow Volleyball: co-ed teams of 6 (must have 2 women) on skis and boards, Snow Sculpting: Base area, Fat Tire Bike Race: down the mountain, Night Skiing, Torch Light Parade, Fireworks, Chili Cook Off: (sponsored by the Pinetop-Lakeside Chamber of Commerce) Saturday 11:00am – Go to www.pinetoplakesidechamber.com for more information and check out their Fri, February 20th event, Sno Glo 5K Run & 1mile Fun Run/Walk. You’ll find entry forms on their website.
There is a tentative storm on the horizon and if we keep our fingers crossed, it will come and provide the ambiance and the aesthetics for another great White Mountain Winter Games event.
Editor’s Note: After a fun day outdoors, just minutes down the road is Hon-Dah Resort Casino where you can warm up by the large fireplace in the hotel lobby with a cup of hot chocolate or glass of wine from the Lounge and just relax your cares away.
If you’re feeling hungry, The Indian Pine Restaurant is a great choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Maybe you’re ready for some top notch night life – The Timbers Lounge Showroom provides live entertainment nightly including the Monday Fun-day Comedy Show and terrific bands Tues – Sat including “Groove City” on Saturday Feb 21 after the Winter Games. Looking for more fun? Hon-Dah Resort Casino has over 800 of the most popular slot machines along with a poker room with live games and tournaments nightly! So, don’t hibernate this winter! You’ll miss all of the fun!
The Specular White Mountains, Sunrise Park Resort and the Winter Games is where everything is happening right now!